I’ve been thinking about some of the ways films have portrayed Motherhood over the course of the past 100 years in Hollywood history. What a wide arc of role models we have in Hollywood films that portray Moms. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some of my favorite on-screen portrayals of Mom come to mind.
Moms on Screen: I loved Glenn Close as Robin William’s mom in The World According to Garp. Close was the wise and caring mother who advised her son early in life that childhood without a Dad wasn’t a handicap he needed to bear. Then there was the wise Mother Superior who advised the young novice Maria in The Sound of Music to follow where her heart led her and to climb every mountain.
The mother of the movement, Sarah Conner from both the Terminator and Terminator 2 inspired a world-wide rebellion. There was actress Maureen O’Hara, the ultimate model of the working mom way back in 1947 who paved the way in the original Miracle on 34th Street. And there are the mothers who inspired us and gave us hope. The Victorian model for mothering was seen in Mary Astor in Meet Me in St. Louis. The cool ex-hippie version was played by Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia. And there was Shirley Maclaine’s loopy and self-absorbed character seen in Postcards from the Edge. There is the self-sacrificing mother. That leads us back to Shirley MacLaine, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a mother fighting for her dying daughter in Terms of Endearment. Sally Fields has played several versions of this. From Forrest Gump to Steel Magnolias, she has been the epitome of a Mom with heart who was willing to sacrifice everything for her child.
Hollywood has portrayed Motherhood in all of its forms. But they seem to excel at telling the story from 1000 feet up, which is not a surprise, as the male-dominated field of Hollywood producers and story-tellers still hasn’t permeated our mindsets enough to change the culture in a meaningful way. There have been great and powerful women in Hollywood with powerful portrayals of mothers and strong female leads, but the trends and the statistics still point to a male-dominated industry that makes it hard for female directors and writers to break through. Still, there are signs of progress. More people are becoming aware of the disparity between the female directors and the female writers and story-tellers than ever before.
Coming Soon: Meanwhile, we are still gearing up for some of the big summer releases. Wonder Woman is one of the big openers; War Machine stars Brad Pitt in a war satire from Netflix; and Blade Runner 2049 will star Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, who is returning in the character of Deckard.
Critically Speaking: Movies released recently include Guardians of the Galaxy 2-which has seen favorable reviews; Snatched with Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer-this comedy has had mixed reviews. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has struggled also, particularly with critics like Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling it a “King-sized pile of crap.”
There’s an Australian film about serial killers called Hounds of Love, which has been called disturbing by many reviewers. Alien: Covenant has also received some mixed reviews, as films that have followed the original story have found it hard to replicate the unique and complex undertones seen in Alien and Aliens.
There are some early signs of promise, such as favorable reviews for Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but they can’t really bring back the box office magic found in years past with huge blockbuster hits waiting to be previewed. There are interesting films, there’s films debuting at Cannes with lots of potential, but nothing on the horizon screams “Glory Days” to the fading Hollywood blockbuster model.
Some of the upcoming films of summer feature interesting actors: Harry Styles will make his acting debut in Dunkirk; Sofia Boutella-the girl with the blades for legs in Kingsman: The Secret Service will trade the blades for linen wrappings in Tom Cruise’s upcoming remake of The Mummy. Boutella also has a role in Charlize Theron’s action film Atomic Blonde.
From the Festivals: Sofia Coppola will debut at Cannes Film Festival her remake of the Clint Eastwood vehicle from the 70’s, the Civil War film The Beguiled, which stars Nicole Kidman. The Chicago Critics Film Festival also runs this week- May 12-18th. And the Canadian International Documentary Festival has just wrapped, running from April 27-May 7th.
About Documentaries: I would urge any film goer to rent or even check out from the library some of the best films that are made in any genre, the documentaries. Films portraying the life of Harvey Milk: The Times of Harvey Milk from 1984; plus one of my personal favorite’s: The Fog of War, Michael Moore’s documentary on Columbine: Bowling for Columbine and his earliest piece Roger & Me. No matter what your political leanings are, some of these films are vital to telling a story and getting out of the way as they let the scenes unfold and allow you to make up your own mind. Don’t allow the bias of any political lens that you possess to prevent watching some of these gems. The left and the right need to know more about some of the particulars that documentaries pluck out of the fiber of the story as we watch details unseen in traditional, linear film-making formats.
Enough said on my “See more Documentaries” soapbox for the week! I’ve now plugged classic black and white films, Film Noir, and have moved on to the Documentary category. Next plug….could be strong women characters in film or my love of classic Westerns! Who Knows?
One last thing: Molly Haskell’s piece on Robert De Niro in Film Comment is worth checking out. Read it in the 6 Degrees of Film magazine this week. I’m hoping to be checking out some of the early summer releases this week-maybe even that “King-sized pile of crap” also known as King Arthur. I’ll let you know and see you at the movies!-ML